Dreamfall Chapters - Book 2: Rebels review: dry spell

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Win, Mac, Linux
Publisher Red Thread Games
Developer Red Thread Games
Release Date Mar 12, 2015

Dreamfall Chapters - Book 2: Rebels isn’t what I expected.

I fell deeply in love with the first entry in this episodic adventure game when it launched last year. I was enamored with the game’s writing and its smart, spunky heroine, Zoe Castillo; I loved living in her head as I learned more about her life and picked choices that promised consequence. The game’s worlds of both magic and steampunk absolutely fascinated me. These are places I want to go, I often thought to myself. These are characters I want to spend time with.

But if Reborn was the infatuation stage of my ongoing relationship with Dreamfall Chapters, Rebels is the three-month itch. The honeymoon is over.

Book 2 kicks up shortly after the end of Book 1, in which I lived a "day in the life" scenario for Zoe and — in a second but equally important storyline — helped traitor Kian Alvane escape from prison. Kian, now settling into living with a group of rebels, prepares to fight against his own people.

dreamfall chapters book 2

The rebel gang itself isn’t terribly inventive. Key among them is a tough, one-eyed character named Likho who is naturally distrustful of Kian, for reasons that are both quickly clear and a little cliche; and Enu, an awkward, foot-in-her-mouth kinda girl with a good heart.

Much of Kian’s arc in this episode revolves around the city of Marcuria (which fans of previous games might remember). He weeds out a traitor in the rebel forces, takes out enemy supplies and seeks meetings with the locals. Although this is the first time in Dreamfall Chapters we’re given a significant chunk of time with Kian, it feels strangely threadbare. Kian is stoic — until he suddenly isn’t — but his cavalier answers feel at odds with how the character is most often presented. Dreamfall Chapters’ dialogue choices include a mental deliberation that helps flesh out each possible option, but even Kian’s inner dialogue did little to enlighten me to his deeper struggles.

Worse, though, are that his missions feel game-y in a way that pulled me out of the experience. Where the previous episode masterfully folded these tasks into its gameplay, effectively turning them into pleasant excursions, Book 2 never made me feel like I was actively working toward a cohesive goal. Instead, it was a lot like ticking off items on a shopping list. Did I remember to blow up the harbor? Oh, good. Now, where’s that messenger boy I wanted to stalk?

This problem is also disappointingly common to Zoe’s arc. With a list of general tasks to complete, like visiting my (now ex-) boyfriend or searching for a missing girl, Book 2 requires an awful lot of running back and forth. Even Zoe’s city is a source of frustration. I learned every route in Book 1, but Book 2 gates these off in the name of police occupation, meaning you’ll often have to take — or find — very specific routes to get where you’re going. The city itself isn’t huge, but in a game so bent on giving you free will, it feels unnecessarily restrictive. These gates don’t serve as a way to keep you from getting too far ahead of yourself; they’re just making it harder to move around.

it was a lot like ticking off items on a shopping list

dreamfall chapters book 2

The result is a lot more aimless running around, and a lot less talking or deliberating — one of the game’s strongest points. There are a few key choices to make in Book 2, and a few consequences from Book 1 that have already manifested themselves. As I mentioned before, I’d driven Zoe’s boyfriend off by choosing to stand up for myself (or "fight" with him) in the last episode. Kian’s arc included an optional quest based on a character I’d interacted with before.

Not all of these consequences have been fully explored, but their resolutions so far are at least clear and mostly satisfying — even the ominous promise about my culinary choices did actually come back to haunt me. The choices I made in Book 2 were equally interesting, and some had an obvious, immediate effect. But Rebels sparkles a little less than its predecessor, even while offering more of its winning traits — more choices, more time with the characters, more of the world.

resolutions so far are at least clear and mostly satisfying

I adored Book 1 of Dreamfall Chapters for its sense of discovery. So much of its world felt real and interesting to me; I played through it multiple times for the chance to live out the fantasy a little longer. Book 2 left me feeling exhausted, less enchanted with what I thought the game was. I never settled into its narrative in the same way I did with the first, because Book 2’s story felt so task-driven and sterile. By the time the episode’s drawn out conclusion finally arrived, it felt sudden, out of nowhere. It’s not so much about the shock of what happens as the randomness of it all.

Wrap Up:

Book 2: Rebels is a few steps behind its predecessor

By ignoring so much of the first chapter’s successful formula, Dreamfall Chapters: Book 2 digs into some of the larger issues that may come to shape the overall game. But the price it pays feels too steep. Where Book 1 felt deliberate in its missions and deep in its narrative asides, Book 2 plays like too many ideas mashed into a single package.

Dreamfall Chapters - Book 2: Rebels was reviewed using a download code for Mac provided by Red Thread Games. You can read more on Polygon's ethics policy here.

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